WHY I STAY
Written by Elijah De’Shawn Griffiths
Why do I stay when I know I’m not “loved” as they [the saints] confess their love towards me? Why do I stay? Why do I continue to use the gifts God has given me in Music Ministry in the Black Church? It’s simple — primarily because I truly love God! A part of truly loving God is to be able to sow and love into people’s lives, even when you’re aware that they really don’t love you like Christ does. Complementing my love for God, it’s the confidence, peace, and serenity that God has given me to keep pressing on.
Growing up in the traditional non-affirming Black church, Music Ministry was dominant in my upbringing. A majority of the time, my people—Black gay men–were the ones at the forefront of Music Ministry, from the Minister of Music all the way down to the off-pitch tenor. My people have been serving with a pure heart, filled with devotion which exemplifies great strength and courage. This is why I stay!
There’s nothing as moving as Gospel Choir Music! I’ve been singing, directing, teaching, and playing the piano, organ, and drums my entire life. I suppose it’s just the charge assigned to me – and I will never stop.
However, in my young-adult life, I’ve experienced a feeling of being an outcast while simultaneously feeling like I belonged to the “organization.” In addition to the fiery, hateful, and traumatizing sermons against the LGBTQ community that were preached (which I could never find context in the Bible to back up); I’ve seen a lot of the hypocrisy both within and outside of the Black Church. They love the LGBTQ all day on Sunday, steal the language … WAIT… Let me be more specific and make this personal! They “loved” me, the Black gay educated man all day on Sunday, as long as I had their church choirs singing to the heavens! But when Monday came, that was a different story. With dialogue coming from previous “saints” and clergy whom I served under that included: “God didn’t design you this way. You must’ve went through some kind of rejection. I think you’re exotic looking. I love you, not my wife. I want to make love to you.” And the very direct “let’s have sex!” Yes, they’ve said all of that and more.
I say all of that to say, after prayer and careful consideration after listening to God, I’ve learned that no matter what, people may not ever be on the same page when it comes down to sexuality – especially in Black church culture. The saints choose to believe that we’re “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14), and that “everyone who is called by my [God’s] name: for I have created him for my glory, Whom I have formed… I have made him” (Isaiah 43:7). At the same time, we still struggle to still co-exist.
Why do I stay? I stay because I believe worship and ministry is for everyone. I stay because God is still speaking and showing me that there’s still hope for the Black Church to truly show and practice the same exact kind of love Jesus did – the love of God for man and of man for God, Agape! I believe whether you’re Black, white, gay, straight, yellow, or brown – we all should be able to co-exist and worship together. For this to happen, I’d have to be in the church for the ball to get rolling. This is why I stay.
Elijah De’Shawn Griffiths is a native of Plainfield, and Summit, New Jersey, Griffiths is the founder of the Montclair State University Voices of Unity Gospel Choir. Griffiths also serves as Minister of Music to many churches and organizations.